Falmouth selectmen organized a Monday night forum to discuss the issue of wind turbines and received a standing-room-only crowd of state and local officials, expert consultants and mostly angry residents.
Discussions of noise, low frequency noise, shadow flicker, proper setback distances and possible health effects from the turbines dominated during the more than three-hour meeting.
The final portion of the meeting was reserved for the comments of abutters to the town’s Wind 1 turbine at the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Facility. Those residents shared stories of sleepless nights, headaches and other ill effects they say are brought on by the turbine. Regardless of this or that study, they told the board, there is a problem with the nearly 400-foot, 1.65-megawatt turbine, which has been operational for more than a year but is now curtailed during strong winds in a nod to residents.
“Clearly there is a problem. We are not complaining just to complain,” Blacksmith Shop Road resident Dick Nugent told selectmen after pointing to the packed auditorium at the Morse Pond School. “We don’t expect you to have all the answers but we do expect you to take it and run with it.”
The entire auditorium received a bit of news early in the meeting when Steven Clarke, assistant secretary at the state’s Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, announced that a panel will be formed this week to specifically study any health effects regarding the sounds from wind turbines. That panel will be comprised of representatives of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection and its Department of Public Health.
“Right now, the focus is on sound,” Clarke told the audience.
Regarding possible health effects, Gail Harkness, chairwoman of the Falmouth Board of Health, said that board has been meeting with concerned residents for the past year and now receives bi-weekly updates at its regular meetings She said reported health effects include sleep disturbances, fatigue, headaches and nausea. The board has created a database of information on the issue and has also developed a wind turbine complaint and/or comment form which will be available online.
Patricia Kerfoot, chairwoman of the planning board, lauded the town for its decision to have a one-year moratorium on new wind turbine projects while more information is collected and regulations are formulated. “First and foremost, the planning board is here to listen,” Kerfoot said.
Kerfoot and others had plenty to listen to. There was Chris Menge of Harris Miller Miller & Hanson, the project manager of a noise study on the Wind 1 turbine. He discussed the results of the analysis including additional clarifications requested by the state. According to Menge, Wind 1 did not exceed noise limits but there would be trouble between midnight and 4 a.m. after Wind 2 goes into service. He recommended shutting down one of those turbines at low wind speeds during those hours.
But there was also Todd Drummey, an abutter, who used data available from the studies to point to different conclusions. Drummey said Menge’s claim that the turbine is less intrusive at high wind speeds is contrary to the experience of residents.
“The wind turbine is annoying at low speeds,” Drummey said. “It’s intolerable at high speeds. It drives people out of their homes.”
Drummey was joined by Mike Bahtiarian of Noise Control Engineering, a consultant hired by the resident group. His major point was that amplitude modulation, or what he called “the swishing” of the turbines, needs to be considered.
Stephen Wiehe, a representative of Weston & Samson, discussed the financial aspects of the municipal turbines while Thomas Mills and Susan Innis, both of Vestas, discussed the mechanical details of the turbine itself.
Malcolm Donald, an abutter from Ambleside Drive, discussed the concerns of turbine malfunction and the potential of ice being thrown from the blades. However, probably his most compelling testimony concerned “shadow flicker,” which is the rhythmic flashing of sunlight and shadow caused by the spinning blades. He showed the audience a video shot from inside his house where, looking through the window, the shadow of the blades can be seen moving repeatedly across his lawn.
“The inside of the house looks like a disco in the morning,” he said.
Terri Drummey told the crowd that her son refuses to sleep in his bed because of the “thumping” and was having problems at school until the turbine was curtailed.
“He’s happily brought his C’s and D’s up to A’s and B’s within days,” said Drummey. “Let me repeat that: within days.”
Falmouth selectmen have scheduled a July 11 meeting to follow up on further discussion of the turbines.
Selectmen Chairwoman Mary Pat Flynn thanked everyone for attending the forum but singled out residents for sharing their experiences.
“Certainly they were very personal and right to the point,” she said.